Back home we’d disconnected from Facebook. Too negative, too agony-aunt, too awful. We tweet, we email, oddly enough, we talk. We don’t communicate with each other via Messenger.
As you may have noticed, we're back on Facebook. It’s one way you connect and do business here. We’re learning. It’s also useful: the map attached to a venue’s Facebook page has saved us from aimlessly wandering the streets more than once. But it can also let you down.
Last night we set off for Manzi Art Space. We’d finally got the taxi system sorted and were confident that we weren’t going to get ripped off. We drove through peak hour, freshly showered and looking for a good night out. The taxi swings into a little side street, past a Buddhist temple with bells ringing, and our driver sings out, ‘Manzi, Manzi!’
We step out into the evening air, along with several other young people. 'Sorry,' the young woman at the door says, 'there’s a concert tonight'. ‘Perfect!’, we think. 'Can we buy tickets?' 'Sorry, no, it’s a private concert.' So Facebook is good, but not that good.
We’ve got an hour and a half until our dinner engagement at Gón, which is about 3km north of where we are. 'Shall we walk?' asks Sarah. We type our destination into Google Maps: destination not found. We look it up on Facebook: nothing. Chris messaged earlier in the day to say, 'It’s near the Sheraton, if that helps the taxi driver'. What taxi driver?
And so begins our unscheduled walking tour of Hanoi. It’s along a main road, but the footpath is wide and the going easy. We pass a taxi layover area; drivers squat playing cards and board games. Further on, the ubiquitous plastic stools are being put out. Roadside food vendors are setting up for the night. The noise from the road is deafening; this is not the place for a quiet, romantic dinner. The sun sets, the footpath vanishes, replaced by long stretches of large, uneven gravel. A makeshift light hangs above a doorway, young and old sit on the front step: you soon realise that you are eye to eye with the locals, looking in on their lives. People live less than a metre from this busy road. Their front yard is the highway.
It’s dark now, the neon-lit road stretches before us, sweat pours out of us. Sandwiched between the houses is a high-end tailor and a car hire company, a luxury car on display behind a massive wall of glass. The occasional marble-foyered home with sweeping rosewood staircases glitters in between closed shopfronts where families cook dinner and children do homework amongst the piled stock. The contrast couldn’t be any more stark. And so it continues, the houses of the poor juxtaposed with those of the rich, furniture decor stores, and a very trendy wine bar.
The red light of the Sheraton is a beacon against the night. We still have no idea where Gón is but we’re on the water, there’s a breeze, and the view across West Lake is spectacular. Eventually, we find Gón and our friends.
We’re north of Hanoi because our friend Chris plays baritone sax in a band at Hanoi Rock City, a live music venue that we need to check out. Chris pulls up on his moto; presumably his wife Fyfe, joining us after a work conference call (she works for an NGO, tirelessly, we think) will jump on the back when we head to Hanoi Rock City. Sarah jokingly asks Chris if all 4 of us can fit... Actually, we could; it’s his own piloting skills Chris doesn’t trust. We Grab instead, the local equivalent of Uber.
Hanoi Rock City looks like a Spanish hacienda; there’s swing music, and, more importantly, a bar. Sarah orders a dry Martini. She gets a glass of Dry Vermouth ... this is one more in a long list of lessons we’ve learnt.
Upstairs it’s Open Mic night, and slightly stoned expats are singing cover songs, and original compositions about love and travel. It’s downstairs we can imagine our choir, under the lanterns, in amongst the swing music, maybe with the big band. We’re contemplating another drink when Sarah’s email pops up with a change of meeting time: our 3 o’clock Friday is now a 10am Thursday, as CSAGA’s office will have a power outage on Friday. It’s time to head home.